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A storm is raging in the sacred confines of the Great Meade Hall of the Seeley Lake Nordic Club. Logging operations forced a course change in the OSCR route, and the pros and cons are being debated ferociously. Before club members take up their cudgels and begin drunkenly flailing away at one another, let’s pause to reflect on the accomplishments of the Seeley Lake Elementary Ski Team.


Yesterday’s performance by all of our kids, and some of our graduates, really showed how far we’ve come as a program. Owen Hoag hung with the Glacier Nordic Club, taking third place in a hotly contested battle that was decided by mere seconds and is probably the toughest, most competitive 10k race we’ve had to date. Klayton Kovatch entered the 25k, an exceptionally long distance for an 8th grader, and made a strong showing, finishing somewhere in the top 10. My girl Cora Stone raced so hard she puked in the parking lot afterwards. She proudly offered to show me the evidence, but maybe some other time, Cora. Sam Ayers, a kid who should be everyone’s role model, showed once again that positivity and enthusiasm trump everything else, every time.

And now, back to our debate.


For the last, I don’t know, maybe 20 years, we’ve run the OSCR over the top of Rice Ridge. It’s a long, steady climb with a total elevation gain of 3302’, is extremely scenic and consists primarily of skiing on roads. The new route consists of two loops which gain 2562’ each for a total of 5124’ and use almost all of our existing trail system with the exception of the Auggie Cutoff road and a climb which roughly parallels Auggie that we call the 20k Addition. That’s 1822’ of extra climbing.


The two-loop option is not without historical precedent, having been used back in the mid-90’s for several years. I’ve raced both iterations and my personal preference from a skier’s standpoint is the two-loop option.


Two loops provide a showcase for the Seeley Creek Trails. We’ve got an outstanding, professionally designed trail system here, and two loops gives skiers the opportunity to experience it all. Tim Swanberg reminded me yesterday that I wrote a post years ago about the lemming effect, wherein skiers who come here to train ski a 10k loop over and over and over again because the math is easy. They miss out on Mountain View, Bear Tree, Hawkwoods, and maybe Roller Coaster and Larch Knob, all of which for my money are the most interesting skiing we have. It’s challenging, it’s tough and you can’t get by on endurance alone. You have to know how to ski to perform well. In contrast the Rice Ridge Loop doesn’t challenge your skiing ability as much as your fitness and aerobic capacity. It may be pretty, but nobody is looking at the scenery when they’re dying while climbing the switchbacks.


Using the Forest Service roads for the Rice Ridge race put us at the mercy of the snowmobile club who would groom the course for a fee. Last year they neglected to groom the Auggie Cutoff portion of the race, catching our groomers unawares and forcing them to frantically buff the surface right up to the starting gun. Additionally, snowmobilers use the course during the race which tears up the surface and raises safety concerns. One year when we were racing counterclockwise, I was screaming down through the switchbacks and encountered four snowmobiles flying uphill. They never even slowed down, and I squeezed by them with what seemed like inches to spare. The new course minimizes snowmobile conflict since we only use a short stretch of the Auggie road.


The new course puts grooming in the hands of the ski club and gives us more control over the quality. When it’s icy conditions we can use the ginzus to scratch up the surface as opposed to the pisten bully which essentially does nothing with the hard pack. It gives the club 5k more to groom, which in the grand scheme of things is minimal.


We’ve been discussing the possibility of officially incorporating Auggie and the 20k Addition into the trail system and have broached the subject with the Forest Service. Historically it was part of the ski trails but fell by the wayside when the current trail system was designed. Using the new route as part of the OSCR 50k could help give us leverage and might increase the likelihood of the Forest Service allowing us to gate either end of the Auggie Cutoff portion during ski season. The snowmobile club has abandoned grooming that stretch and the minimal use it does get provides a temptation to snowmobilers to trespass on the ski trails, which becomes a major issue in heavy snow years like last year.


The biggest knock on the new route is that it’s hard. Well, yeah. OSCR has never been easy. This is Seeley Lake, MT, a town of rugged individualists and dominant women. The kids on the ski team all have circles worn into their Wrangler hip pockets from their cans of snoose. What the hell did you expect? Our goal is to make Nordic skiing great again.


Those are my arguments, now we want to hear your input. The feedback I got yesterday was consistently positive, but racers also consistently reported that it was tough. Is it too tough? Would you ski the 50k again as two loops or would you downsize to the 25? Do you like the Rice Ridge route better?


Leave your comments below. Remember, this is the internet and the kid gloves can come off under the cloak of anonymity. If you use profanity, that’s fine, just try to display some wit alongside your f-bombs.

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After a three- or four-year absence the Seeley Lake Biathlon has returned. Originally staged independently by Cheri Thompson, the event had fallen on hard times despite its overwhelming popularity. The Nordic club had considered resurrecting it, but no one had the nerve or energy to take it on until last spring when Dave Batchelder naively put his head on the chopping block with absolutely no prompting from us.


Apparently, he had one of those light bulb moments and thought he had a good idea. I agree, it was an excellent idea, since someone else was going to do all the heavy lifting. Not that I ever actually do any heavy lifting. The reality is, any cross country race requires a ton of work and organization, but a biathlon increases that commitment exponentially since it involves all the usual race production effort with the added component of guns shooting real, live ammo that puts holes in things, including humans, with deadly force.


So now you have not only a race course to prepare, registration, promotion, timing, food, etc. etc., you’ve also added an interval start, a shooting range, targets, shooting lanes, someone to oversee the range, a monitor for each of seven shooting stations, PLUS a penalty loop for every missed shot and someone to keep track of the hamsters going round and round the loop with one lap for every missed shot.


The targets were the easy part. Cheri was stuck with a pile of biathlon equipment that she would probably never use again and the club was more than happy to take that problem off her hands. Dave struck a deal with Cheri and we purchased what turned out to be a small mountain of stuff. So, we not only bought biathlon targets, but an unanticipated storage problem as well. But, hey, added layers of complexity just keep life interesting and if Seeley Lake is going to Make Nordic Skiing Great Again then we are willing to make small sacrifices. The biathlon range is being disassembled at this very moment and my guess is Director of Shooting Operations Christ Lorentz has a rough idea of where he’s taking that pile of crap. As long as it’s not my garage we’ll be fine.


The other part of the equation is safety, no small deal when guns are involved. DSO Chris has a long history of involvement with the local gun club as well as competitive shooting, so we knew we were in good hands in that department. Since this is a citizen race the assumption is made that none of the racers know jack squat about guns or gun safety and everyone is required to complete basic safety training prior to the event. For many of the racers that meant arriving at the range at 8 AM to get schooled on the essentials such as not waving your rifle around with reckless abandon and blowing your big toe off. The local kids were scheduled for 4 PM the day before the race which eliminated a good deal of the cluster effect that we’d experienced in previous biathlons.


Due to the lack of snow we experienced early in the season, Dave postponed promoting the event until the week prior. That was a double-edged sword. Do you go ahead and advertise early and risk having to cancel and refund entry fees, or do you hold off until the last possible moment and pray there is adequate participation to cover expenses and justify the boat load of work involved? As it turned out, we had 65 racers which has to be judged a success, all things considered. Granted, that number was heavily juiced by the volume of kids from Seeley Lake Elementary, but still the majority of racers came from outside the valley.


Easily the coolest thing about the biathlon is that it really is a race for fun. Sure, racers are skiing hard and there’s that handful of skiers whose competitive edge can’t be suppressed. But, for most people, especially the kids, it’s about having a good time and getting to shoot guns. Other than a few of the teenagers, the racers weren’t what I would categorize as elite skiers. And the shooting range can be the great equalizer. You may be the fastest skier out there, but if you miss five shots, you’re going to ski five laps around the donut which can add 20 seconds per lap to your total time. Meanwhile, your buddy shot clean and is out on the course slipping away, while you’re spinning circles on the giant wheel going nowhere.


For those of you who showed up yesterday: thanks for coming. To the ones who thought about it but declined: there’s always next year. The Seeley Lake Biathlon will be back in 2020 and it will be smoother, bigger and badasser than ever.

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